Boston Celtics

Dec 12, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Gordon Hayward (20) takes a shot while guarded by Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

Pardon the expression, but size matters. At least it does for the Celtics in 2019, especially against the iron of the NBA Eastern Conference.

So, while we admit that it’s always dangerous to make too much of regular season basketball, the facts are the facts, at least at the moment: the Celtics have played the Philadelphia 76ers twice this season – and they’ve lost twice. And the most obvious issue facing the Celtics is precisely what faced them in last year’s playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks, when the Celtics were completely dominated in the paint while losing in five games.

Admittedly, this Celtics team is different – and it’s also smaller in the absence of, among others, Al Horford. In the fourth quarter last night, Joel Embiid torched the Celtics for 16 points, eight of which came from the free-throw line. Embiid made shots from the perimeter and in the paint, and the Celtics really couldn’t do a thing about it.

Here are Embiid’s five field-goal attempts in the quarter – the first of which was a miss on a jump shot from straight away. After that, he made everything – and went 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. Pay attention to the number of green jerseys standing around him (and watching?) when he was in the paint.

Obviously, the NBA today is a different game – and is played from the perimeter. But talented big men still matter, particularly in a conference with both Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Philadelphia’s Embiid.

Philadelphia, for its part, has size across the board. In the two games vs. Boston this year, the Sixers have outrebounded the Celtics by a whopping 107-74 margin, including 45-33 at the TD Garden last night. Meanwhile, Philly has shot 57-for-110 on 2-point attempts – a robust 51.8 percent. Embiid and Ben Simmons (who went 11-of-16 against the Celtics in the first meeting) and Embiid are a big reason the Sixers rank eighth in the NBA in two-point field goal percentage.

Milwaukee, by the way, ranks first.

Can this change? Sure. Celtics fans will note that the team played last night without Robert Williams, arguably its best rim protector. (The Sixers were also without Horford, for what it’s worth.) But the C’s last night got good performances from both Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter – and really had no answer for Embiid when the Sixers went to him down the stretch.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.